Races

In 1975 Niki Lauda gave Ferrari its first world title in 11 years. The story of that successful season began, emphatically, at Monaco
Words: Gavin Green

At the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix, Ferrari regained its mojo.

Eleven years had passed since the Scuderia had won a world championship and 20 since it had won at Monaco, most prestigious of all Grands Prix.

The combination of a new car, the 312T, a new driver (Niki Lauda) and a new team manager would return Ferrari to the front of the grid. It would be the dominant team for the next three seasons, scoring a hat trick of constructors’ titles (1975, 1976 and 1977) and powering Lauda to three years of dominance and two world titles. But for his famous near-fatal crash at the Nürburgring, it would almost certainly have been a hat trick of drivers’ titles.

Niki Lauda's 1975 season would give Ferrari its first world title in 11 years 

Monaco in 1975 is where Ferrari’s revival began. It was also probably the greatest of the 15 F1 victories that Lauda would score for Ferrari.

 

Around the winding streets of Monaco, fifth round of the championship, 26-year-old Lauda took his first of five wins that season. He took pole position by a healthy 0.69 sec. On race day it was raining hard, and the Grand Prix began in treacherous conditions. Lauda led from the off. Cars were crashing behind him, in one of the most accident-filled races in F1 history. Lauda sailed imperiously on, showing a speed and calmness that belied his youth. Apart from his pit stop for slick tyres as the track dried, he led every lap. He dominated that race and would seal the 1975 title, fittingly, at the Italian GP four months later. 

Crossing the Monaco finish line safely (and in front) after one of the most accident-filled races in F1 history

Lauda’s hiring by Enzo Ferrari for the 1974 season was a part of a widespread shake-up at Maranello. After several years of underachievement, the Old Man hired new drivers and 26-year-old Luca di Montezemolo, a protégé of Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli, as team manager.

 

For 1975, there was a new car, the 312T, one of the finest F1 machines to come from the fertile mind of technical director Mauro Forghieri. T stood for trasversale, after its transverse-mounted gearbox, a more compact design which improved the car’s balance. The car’s flat-12 engine was also the most powerful on the grid. The 312T was the finest F1 car of the season, and Lauda made good use of it.

 

If Monaco in 1975 was Lauda’s most significant Ferrari victory, his greatest drive – and certainly his bravest – was a race he didn't win: the 1976 Italian GP.

 

Lauda’s title-defending 1976 season had begun well. He won five of the first nine races, including Monaco again. Then came the German GP at the Nürburgring and the crash that nearly killed him. Six weeks later, at the Italian GP, he made the greatest comeback in F1 history.

Happy times: Lauda receives his trophy from the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly

Horribly scarred, predictably scared – ‘at Monza I was rigid with fear’, he later wrote - and physically far from fit, Lauda out-qualified both his teammates (one of whom was brought in to replace him) and finishes a magnificent fourth. When he removed his sweat-soaked balaclava after the race, it was soaked in blood. 

 

He lost that year’s title to his rival and friend James Hunt by a single point. 

 

Lauda’s racing career had begun problematically. Disowned by his wealthy Viennese family (who hated him racing), he borrowed money to fund his early career. After two unsuccessful years in F1, he was hired by Enzo Ferrari for the 1974 season and quickly repaid the Old Man’s faith. 

 

He left Ferrari after his 1977 triumph and, racing for McLaren, would win the championship again in 1984. He retired in 1985, founded his own airline and returned as a Ferrari F1 consultant in the ‘90s. 


He died in 2019, aged 70, rightly celebrated as one of the all-time Formula One – and Ferrari – greats. And, surely, the bravest.